Monthly Archives: June 2009

Chill out

Vacu Vin Chiller‘Tis the season for a glass of a crisp white or a refreshing rosé and if you’re impatient like me, you want it now and you want it cold.  I picked up the Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Chiller about a year ago and I haven’t used an ice bucket since.  This little baby fits in the door of your freezer and will chill your bottle in about 5 minutes.  There’s no mess, minimal waiting time, it maintains the cold well and it enjoys walks on the beach (or in the park or over to your couch).  It’s also cheap – the link above is from Amazon, where you can get 2 for $8.99.  I’m jealous because I only have one.  They also offer a Champagne chiller, but I’ve used this one on all of my bottles of bubbly and it does just fine.

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You got boxed

Black Box Wines is sponsoring a video contest.  For you SNL fans, the first step is not to cut a hole in the box.  They want you to serve their product to your family or friends and then capture their reaction when they learn it’s from a box (assuming they found the wine to be delicious). 

I’d like to enter this contest, but my friends and family would not be surprised to get a decent wine from a box; in fact, many of them have had boxed wines at my dinner parties before.  I’m all for packaging wine in a box; it tends to be inexpensive, it’s harder for me to break, it’s more transport-friendly, the wine keeps for much longer, it’s more environmentally friendly (less energy required to produce and transport compared to glass bottles) and thankfully, more producers are starting to get on the bandwagon.  I lovingly referred to boxed wines in college as “wine bladders” – have you ever removed the box to see what’s underneath? Continue reading


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Bringing home the stinkin’

Oh, if only any of these vials smelled as good as bacon. 


What could make this show up in your glass?

You may have seen my post about Le Nez du Vin, the wine-smelling practice kit.  Well, I liked the master aroma kit so much that I recently purchased the faults (les défauts) kit.  And boy, does it stink – onions, rotten apples, moldy earth, oh my.  It’s great to be able to recognize the delicious aromas in wine, but it’s also important to recognize faults – no sense in wasting your time on a bad bottle, right?

The faults in the kit are broken into different categories and today I’m going to share with you the ones that are related to harvest and those that come about through exposure to oxygen. Continue reading


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Are you viticulture-curious?

Josh Perilo who writes for New York Press and Our Town attended my last Wine Uncorked class and put this article out today on it.  He had a great time at the class and so will you.  The next one’s running Tuesday, July 14 from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm.  Get thirsty and sign up here.

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Serve it to your model friends

This cocktail has butter in it and lots of it. 

The following might be daunting for some (it involves xanthan gum), but fear not – you can always join us for one at the bar.   This recipe is courtesy of Nils Norén and Dave Arnold.  For more of their antics, check out their blog Cooking Issues


Cold buttered rum being served at our High Tech Cocktails class on 6/12

Cold Buttered Rum
2.75 parts Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum
2 parts butter syrup (recipe below)
0.5 parts strained lime juice
pinch salt
optional garnish: vacuum-infused pineapple


Procedure: mix rum, butter syrup, lime juice and salt in a shaker and dry shake (no ice) for a few seconds to combine.  Add mucho ice and shake.  Strain into chilled martini glass and garnish with infused pineapple

Butter Syrup
200 g water
3 g TIC Pretested Ticaloid 210S (gum arabic and xanthan gum mix)
130 g melted butter
200 g sugar
10 allspice berries, crushed

Procedure: heat water and infuse allspice berries for 5 minutes at a simmer.  Strain out allspice.  Hydrate 3 g Ticaloid 210S in the allspice infused water with a hand blender (you’ll have better luck if you let the water cool).  Add 130 g butter and blend til smooth.  Add 200 g sugar and blend til smooth.  This syrup lasts a long time – it may start to separate, but can easily be stirred back together.

Rum infused pineapple – if you don’t have a vacuum, just soak ’em

This drink tastes like it should have an umbrella in it or be served at a swim-up bar – sweet, spicy, refreshing and with that butter, a guilty pleasure on a hot day.

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Designer labels

Hiring an artist to design a wine label is nothing new.  Mouton Rothschild has been featuring the work of artists on their labels since 1945 and some impressive ones at that: Chagall, Miró, Kandinsky, Picasso and the list goes on.  Grateful Palate Imports has a notable line-up of Australian and Californian wines, most with eye-catching labels and some with distinctive names like “Evil” or “Bitch”.  They purposely hire artists who have never designed labels before to keep their bottles looking fresh.

I’ve never been one to select a bottle of wine based on its label, no matter how sweetly the penguin, kangaroo or frog stared out at me from the shelves.  That being said, you may be surprised by my purchase over the weekend:

Ed Hardy Full Rose 2

It's not a wine, it's a lifestyle

Yes, that’s a bottle of Ed Hardy by Christian Audigier rosé – the same man we can thank for Von Dutch trucker hats.  He’s built quite an empire, endorsing everything from a Vegas nightclub to dental floss.

To be fair, the fridge at the wine store where we found ourselves was quite small and the other options were Sutter Home White Zinfandel, Relax Riesling and Barefoot Chardonnay.

Audigier hails from Avignon in the south of France and he’s currently putting out wines under both the Ed Hardy label as well as well as the Christian Audigier label (more expensive with even more audacious labels).  Both lines are bottled in France, yet have different distributors in the U.S.  They’re available at places like Whole Foods, Costco and at some random wineshop in the Catskills area of NY.

This wine was not bad – inexpensive ($10.99) and a thirst-quencher, with notes of red berries and plenty of watermelon.  We had the 2008 vintage from the Vin de Pays d’Oc – vin de pays is French for country wine, a step up from table wine.  There are 6 of these regional vin de pays and the Vin de Pays d’Oc is located in the Languedoc-Roussillon area in Mediterranean France and produces the most wine at this quality level.  I couldn’t find the exact blend, but my best guess is some combination of Grenache and Syrah.   Despite the label,  it neither pierced my heart nor showed me true love.

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Styles of madeira

Tinta Negra Mole grapes in Madeira

Tinta Negra Mole grapes in Madeira

Now that you know a little history and winemaking, here are some common styles of madeira:

1. Sercial – made from the grape Sercial, which goes by another,  catchier name on the Portugese mainland, “dog strangler” (Esgana Cão).  These are the driest styles, with residual sugar of 0.5% to 1.5%.  The touch of sweetness is offset by searing acidity and you’ll find plenty of almond aromas.

2. Verdelho – made from the grape Verdelho, which also is planted in Australia.  These are moderately sweet (1.5% to 2.5%) with a pronounced smokiness and a tangy acidity.

3. Bual – made from the grape Bual, or Boal in Portugese.  Ripens more to achieve higher sugar levels than Sercial or Verdelho (2.5% to 3.5%) and is dark in color, with notes of raisins.

4. Malmsey – made from the Malvasia grape.  Malmsey is an English corruption of the word Malvasia.  The sweetest of the lot (3.5% to 6.5%), but rarely cloying because of their high acidity (notice a theme, here?).

These 4 grapes are the principal noble grapes grown on the island of Madeira.  Many of the best vineyards were destroyed by a vine-eating pest called phylloxera at the end of the 19th century causing American hybrids or the less-distinct, local Tinta Negra Mole grape to be planted in place of the noble varieties.

Insufficient quantities of the noble varieties have forced some producers to label their standard blends as follows; dry, medium dry, medium sweet, medium rich, rich or sweet.  So, check the label – if the varietal is listed, it will constitute at least 85% of the wine.

A great thing about madeira is that once it’s opened, it can last for many months.  It’s already been oxidized and cooked, right?  Try some with chocolate and you may be a changed person afterward.

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This wine’s got the hots for you


Volcanic island of Madeira

You may have heard the word maderized (MAD-uh-rized) before and if it came up in reference to a table wine, it probably wasn’t a good thing. It’s a winetasting term that refers to a wine with over-the-hill characteristics – a heavy, stale smell, often of overripe apples – usually caused by oxidation, often combined with overly warm storage. The French would say maderisé and the English might say sherrified.

If we’re talking about a fortified wine called madeira, however, hot controlled oxidation can be a beautiful (and tasty!) thing. It’s named after a Portuguese volcanic island, 400 miles off the coast of north Africa. Its location in the middle of the Atlantic made it an important port of call for ships traveling to Africa, Asia and South America.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, wine was shipped in cask and routinely fortified with brandy or neutral grape spirit to help it survive the voyage. This additional alcohol helped prevent re-fermentation as well as microbial spoilage. The constant rocking of the ships accelerated the aging process and the heat of the tropics slowly cooked the wine into an amber, nutty, caramelized beverage. When the sailors consumed the wine at the end of the journey it was a heck of a lot tastier than when they had first loaded it aboard. Continue reading


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Lyrical liquor

Singing and drinking go hand in hand and that’s probably why there’s a lot of songs out there that mention some form of alcohol; the Eagles’ “pink Champagne on ice”, Billy Joel’s “bottle of red, bottle of white” or more my parents’ speed, Garth Brooks’ “two piña coladas, one for each hand”.  From time to time, I’ll share some of my favorites with you. 

Beastie Boys

Flame on, I’m gone
I’m so sweet like a nice bon bon
Came out rapping when I was born
Mom said rock it ’til the break of dawn
Puttin bodies in motion ’cause I got the notion
Well like Roy Cormier with the coconut lotion
The sound of the music makin’ you insane

You can’t explain to people this type of mind frame
And like a bottle of Chateau Neuf Du Pap
I’m fine like wine when I start to rap
We need body rockin’ not perfection
Let me get some action from the back section
-Beastie Boys
“Body Movin'”
Hello Nasty1998

When the Beastie Boys released their Hello Nasty LP in 1998, I had no clue what Châteauneuf-du-Pape (shat-toe-NOOF-duh-pop, often shortened to CDP) was.  I’m happy to say that’s no longer the case.  Continue reading


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Thirsty live on camera

Here’s an interview I did with cork savvy about how to taste wine.  It just came out today.


Filed under Lessons, Videos, Wine